Beijing Adventures Come to an End

The Anxiety of Progress And The Foreign Becomes Familiar
by Sophia Kayafas (MFA 2016)

We are down the street from CAFA and the five of us have just finished a bowl of hot spicy noodles at the Satisfactory Restaurant. The chopsticks are second nature by now. We slurp noodles in record time.

I keep thinking how we came to China starving for something fresh and interesting, and we didn't even really know it. And we arrived at this grand table with many dishes filled generously with steaming varieties of new tastes, flavors, and smells.

Maybe at first it was overwhelming, exotic and foreign, but after tasting it all, we have come to appreciate a new world of sweet, savory, spicy and delicious flavors. We have had such an enriching experience here in China. One where many fulfilling bonding experiences, fantastic views and inspiring exchanges, have taken place in a life changing six weeks.

We have been stretched and pulled in all directions, but with only five days left, we are still managing to squeeze every last drop out of China that we possibly can. We have seen many incredible museums and galleries, made new friends, done plenty of exploration in beautiful temples, hilarious karaoke hotels, magnificent forbidden cities - and finally today - we climbed the amazing Great Wall.

I have become acutely aware of my speedy growth in China. I have noticed an anxiety creeping up as I grow and learn, and I think it has to do with how we shut doors when making commitments to changes. Opening doors can sometimes mean closing other ones, and I always feel like I might lose something precious from moving forward. Either way, I think that this anxious feeling is a good measure of progress for me. And I think I will come away from this trip with the ability to fight that tendency with a little more awareness.

So, I have hundreds of pictures, souvenirs, paintings and great memories made here to remember everything, but what I will miss the most are the friendships I have made and must leave behind. Melody, Peng Peng, Tzhe Zou, Quentin and many other amazing people have taught us so much about life by sharing their perspectives and personalities with us on a daily basis. We have all bonded in a beautiful way in this strange mess of absurd situations. Maybe we will see each other again, maybe not, but we have exchanged some invisible forces that will always keep us connected. I have been privileged enough to witness humanity and a culture with its own logic and rules; and even in all of its foreignness, has become oddly familiar. I will always remember it.

So what can I possibly say, besides, I am full. I have had a full course meal, and I am completely satisfied, and I think we can all agree, it is definitely time to come home!

I think I must leave our little bun behind. Too many loops to jump through, but Peng Peng adopted him and I know he will be in good hands. I think he has really bonded us all together and given some excellent comfort and studio support.

The Great Wall was like this idea I had been counting on and imagining the whole trip. We finally got there and it broke everything in my mind's expectations. It was magnificent, but the most impressive aspect for me was actually the mountain it was balanced on. The wall is like this elegant white lace gracefully drifting across the very tops of these massive high rolling mountains. There were clear blue skies above too. We made it to the top with sunburns and sweat stains and sketched about it. We also participated in some ancient Chinese Kung Fu.

We had our gallery opening in 798. It was super successful and our work hung proudly on the walls. Daniela curated. She pulled us together and cleaned up our loose ends. We let the boys get the food, and they came back with two bags of lays chips and four varieties of alcohol.

We ate a Mongolian meal with a great friend we met at CAFA. It was unexpectedly good.

One night we went to a karaoke hotel and sang Brittany Spears and Whitney Houston songs in a small leather seated disco room for seven hours until about 5 am. So as you can see, we have seen many sides of each other during this trip so far. It has been interesting.

I learned so much about what it means to be an American during my stay in China. I am so thankful for my country, and I feel oddly patriotic being so far from home. We will see how long it lasts when I get back to NYC, but man I can't wait to take a deep juicy breath of clean air.

Wish us luck… the plane ride home is probably going to be miserable.

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